Yesterday (20 December 2012) was my final night in Yogyakarta. I spent much of the day at Gadjah Mada University, meeting with colleagues and students and discussing possible future collaborations. At night, I had the opportunity of seeing not one but two shows at Taman Budaya Yogyakarta, the cultural centre in the middle of town.
The first show was a production of Minang writer Motinggo Busye's classic play Malam Penganten di Bukit Kera (1963; 'Honeymoon at Monkey Mountain') by a group of senior Yogyakarta actors, all of whom had been active in theatre in the 60s, 70s and 80s. The play briefly concerns a honeymoon of a couple in the house of the husband’s grandmother in a remote village. The wife is nervous about being in the countryside and agitated by the grandmother, an old crone obsessed with taking revenge on the murderers of her ex-husband. The husband is indifferent to her needs. Shots ring out and the husband says that his grandmother must have shot monkeys raiding her garden. The grandmother tells him to bring in the corpse, and it turns out to be a man, the same man she had promised to kill. The acting in this production was in the overwrought sandiwara style that ultimately goes back to komedi stambul, with huge gestures, declamations, illustrations of words with hands and so on. Everything, including the set and music and lighting, was polished and professionally delivered, but even though this sort of theatre is of interest to me as a researcher, I found this extended one act play hard to enjoy. The audience was small, and at the curtain call at the end there were nearly more people on stage than in the auditorium. Applause was lukewarm.
I then hopped over to TBY’s main hall, where a wayang wong production by WO Panca Budaya was under way. The goro-goro clown scene was playing when I entered, and the large audience chuckling merrily at the jokes of the clown servants. The play was Babad Alas Wisamarta (The Clearing of the Wisamarta Forest) starring the famous comedienne Yati Pesek in the role of Arimbi. The play was free of charge with invitations (which were easily available to fans from the TBY office and other distribution channels). TBY has been sponsoring a significant number of wayang wong and kethoprak shows at the end of this year- apparently there is money left over in the budget and these forms are easy to organise and always attract a crowd, especially when a well-known personage like Mbak Yati is involved.
Panca Budaya did a fine job in this play and was clearly in the audience’s favour. When Arjuna entered with a dead mike, Gareng made this into a comic bit, first circling around Arjuna so that bits of Arjuna’s dialogue were picked up by his own mike, then instructing Semar to sit next to his lord so that Arjuna could borrow his mike and so on. The fight between Arjuna and not one but two Cakil actor-dancers was masterfully executed. There was much hilarity after Kresna transformed the ugly Arimbi into a beautiful woman so that she might marry the powerful warrior Bima. Her younger brother and comic side kick, who earlier had mocked her for her ugliness and pretended to be Bima to spite her, fell for her and said that if Bima would not have her, he would. The closing battle between the five Pendhawa and their doppelgangers was impressively choreographed, and the scene in which they merge, and the jungle transforms into the beautiful palace of Ngamarta and Yudhistira mounts the throne was wonderfully theatrical. A nice ending for my brief stay in the gudeg city.